This was her state of feeling, when after repressing, as far as possible, every unruly emotion, she left her room and took her way down stairs.
“Is not this imprudent?” The mental question arrested the footsteps of Miss Loring, ere she had proceeded five paces from the door of her chamber.
“Is not what imprudent?” was answered back in her thoughts.
“What folly is this!” she said, in self-rebuke, and passed onward.
“Miss Loring!” There was too much feeling in Hendrickson’s manner. But its repression, under the circumstances, was impossible.
“Mr. Hendrickson!” The voice of Miss Loring betrayed far more of inward disturbance than she wished to appear.
Their hands met. They looked into each other’s eyes—then stood for some moments in mutual embarrassment.
“You are almost a stranger,” said Jessie, conscious that any remark was better, under the circumstances, than silence.
“Am I?” Hendrickson still held her hand, and still gazed into her eyes. The ardor of his glances reminded her of duty and of danger. Her hand disengaged itself from his—her eyes fell to the floor—a deep crimson suffused her countenance. They seated themselves—she on the sofa, and he on a chair drawn close beside, or rather nearly in front of her. How heavily beat the maiden’s heart! What a pressure, almost to suffocation, was on her bosom! She felt an impending sense of danger, but lacked the resolution to flee.
“Miss Loring,” said Hendrickson, his unsteady voice betraying his inward agitation, “when I last saw you”—
“Sir!” There was a sudden sternness in the young girl’s voice, and a glance of warning in her eye. But the visitor was not to be driven from his purpose.
“It is not too late, Jessie Loring!” He spoke with eagerness.
She made a motion as if about to rise, but he said in a tone that restrained her.
“No, Miss Loring! You must hear what I have to say to-night.”
She grew very pale; but looked at him steadily.
So unexpected were his intimations—so imperative his manner, that she was, in a degree, bereft for the time of will.
“You should have spared me this, Mr. Hendrickson,” she answered, sadly, and with a gentle rebuke in her tones.
“I would endure years of misery to save you from a moment’s pain!” was quickly replied. “And it is in the hope of being able to call down Heaven’s choicest blessings on your head, that I am here to-night. Let me speak without reserve. Will you hear me?”
Miss Loring made no sigh; only her eyelids drooped slowly, until the bright orbs beneath were hidden and the dark lashes lay softly on her colorless cheeks.
“There is one thing, Miss Loring,” he began, “known to yourself and me alone. It is our secret. Nay! do not go! Let me say on now, and I will ever after hold my peace. If this marriage contract, so unwisely made, is not broken, two lives will be made wretched—yours and mine. You do not love Mr. Dexter! You cannot love him! That were as impossible as for light to be enamored of dark”—